When it comes to the confusion over SAT scores, what we have here, as the old movie line goes, is a failure to communicate.
And lately much of the failure rests on the shoulders of the folks who otherwise should be experts in communication: the media.
For years, local news outlets have unquestioningly reported Richmond County's remarkable rise in SAT scores, firmly establishing the annual increases as the legacy of Superintendent Charles Larke. Credit for the rising scores has gone to test-prep classes Larke put into the schools.
Meanwhile, Columbia County -- with better scores than Richmond County, the state and the nation -- has seen only modest gains or a slight decline. Credit for gains has gone to individual students, such as the two Lakeside High seniors who hit perfect 1,600s last year, while declines cause hand-wringing.
Not until this year have most local media finally begun to look deeper. They've discovered there's nothing remarkable at all about the rise in Richmond's scores. The system has simply figured out that, by restricting the use of its testing code to well-prepared students, lackluster scores aren't counted against the county's average.
It wasn't until last week that Richmond County officials confirmed such restrictions on its test code. When contacted for comment, the School Board's president even acted as if he'd never heard of the policy, saying he could "neither confirm nor deny" it existed!
Larke and other system officials, meanwhile, are now saying they've been up-front about the restrictive policy all along. Yet they certainly haven't volunteered the information -- and most news outlets haven't asked for it.
As a result, Larke's SAT prep classes got credit for raising Richmond County's test scores, so Columbia County started offering SAT prep courses, too.
Now that the true reason for the rising scores finally has been unveiled, Columbia County officials are suggesting similar limits on use of the county's test code. Like Richmond, this would prevent unprepared students from dragging down the system's average score.
Is this "cheating," as some suggest? No -- especially if we're up-front about it, which Richmond County hasn't been in the past. It's simple math: The fewer students taking the test, the higher the average -- especially if scores from low-performing students are eliminated.
Columbia County allows any student taking the test to use the county code, so they're all reported to the College Board. Thus, the county reports testing 79 percent of its seniors. Nationally, 48 percent of seniors are reported to the College Board as taking the test.
Richmond County's rate? Just 38 percent.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is scheduled to pat Hephzibah High School on the back Monday for raising its average score by 113 points in one year, an 11 percent increase. But the reality is that the school slashed its reported test-takers in that period by 44 percent. No wonder the average score went up!
It's not cheating, but it is a "game," as Columbia County school officials finally figured out last week. Gov. Perdue should figure that out, too, and get the rest of Georgia to play along. Otherwise, the state will continue to be ranked among the worst in the nation.
Our brethren in the media, meanwhile, should work a little harder at communicating the entire story.
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